Do you think I should change that tagline at the top? “A few chapters at a time”? I never really managed more than two, and now that I seem to be down to one, it’s even less fitting… Maybe I should use “pages” instead of “chapters”, or “scenes”… Oh, well. Anyway, welcome back to the Vorkosigan Saga Reread, the premier reread for the works of Lois McMaster Bujold from her Vorkosigan Saga. This week we cover another chapter of A Civil Campaign, her romantic science fiction novel set entirely on the planet of Barrayar, as a proposal is received and rejected, and another one is allowed to proceed.
Ekaterin goes over the Barrayaran garden, trying to determine what the various odours will be throughout the seasons, and making changes accordingly. Her uncle and Nikki are not up yet, so she has a little while yet to concentrate on these aesthetic considerations before things get noisy again, though only a couple of hours before she has to be at the garden site to supervise the crew starting to get the “creek” set up. Then she can put her Dendarii rocks into it and tune the water flow around them. She’s already put up walls and terraces to block up city noise, quite satisfactorily.
By tonight, the bones of the thing would be complete. Tomorrow, the flesh, in the form of trucked-in, unterraformed native soils from remote corners of the Vorkosigan’s District, would arrive. And tomorrow evening before Lord Vorkosigan’s dinner party, just for promise, she would put the first plant into the soil: a certain spare rootling from an ancient South Continent skellytum tree. It would be fifteen years or more before it would grow to fill the space allotted for it, but what of that? Vorkosigans had held this ground for two hundred years. Chances were good Vorkosigans would still be there to see it in its maturity. Continuity. With continuity like that, you could grow a real garden. Or a real family . . .
The front door chimes, and Ekaterin realizes that she’s only in pajamas. She’s prepared to duck upstairs in case it’s a formal visitor, but then she recognizes the voice as her sister-in-law Rosalie Vorvayne. Rosalie greets her, sending her daughter Edie to play with Nikki, and says she has to talk with Ekaterin. She says she’s taken the monorail up from Vordarian’s District, where Ekaterin’s brother Hugo has a civil service post; Aunt Vorthys offers her breakfast, and Rosalie settles for tea. After updating them on her family’s news, Rosalie says she’s really there for Ekaterin; Ekaterin can’t imagine why.
Rosalie stretches it out for a little while, before saying that Ekaterin’s father received a visitor–a Baba, bringing a marriage offer from a proper Vor gentleman in Vorbarr Sultana. They decided that someone should be dispatched to bring Ekaterin the good news in person.
A Vor gentleman from the capital, old-fashioned and highly conscious of etiquette, Da bowled over, who else could it be but—Ekaterin’s heart seemed to stop, then explode. Lord Vorkosigan? Miles, you rat, how could you do this without asking me first! Her lips parted in a dizzying mixture of fury and elation.
The arrogant little—! But . . . he to pick her, to be his Lady Vorkosigan, chatelaine of that magnificent house and of his ancestral District—there was so much to be done in that beautiful District, so daunting and exciting—and Miles himself, oh, my. That fascinating scarred short body, that burning intensity, to come to her bed? His hands had touched her perhaps twice; they might as well have left scorch marks on her skin, so clearly did her body remember those brief pressures. She had not, had not dared, let herself think about him in that way, but now her carnal consciousness of him wrenched loose from its careful suppression and soared. Those humorous gray eyes, that alert, mobile, kissable mouth with its extraordinary range of expression . . . could be hers, all hers. But how dare he ambush her like this, in front of all her relatives?
Rosalie says she seems to be pleased, and not entirely surprised; Ekaterin agrees that she isn’t, completely, though privately thinks that she hadn’t dared to believe it, because it would ruin everything. Rosalie mentions that he has good career prospects and family connections, which Ekaterin says is, if anything, an understatement; not as rich as some families, but well enough. Ekaterin wonders if Miles sending the Baba to her father instead of asking her directly was shyness, or arrogance… Then she realizes that this may mean he’d only asked her to do his garden to stay close to her, instead of actually admiring her work or wanting the garden at all. She knows she’s vulnerable to flattery like that, and wonders if she’s falling into another trap…
She’s barely listening to Rosalie, until she asks Ekaterin how she wants to convey her acceptance to Lieutenant Vormoncrief. Ekaterin realizes, in dismay, that it was Alexi Vormoncrief that Rosalie’s been talking about all this time, and even says out loud that she’d thought the proposal was from Miles Vorkosigan. Rosalie is puzzled for a moment, and then realizes she’s talking about that odd, grotesque little Imperial Auditor who came to Tien’s funeral. Ekaterin is relieved to think that Miles hasn’t been courting her after all, and Rosalie points out that the family would never match her with a mutie, no matter how rich. Unless, of course, Ekaterin really wants to be a Countess, in which case they can use a uterine replicator and have the children gene-cleaned, but Rosalie doesn’t think Ekaterin is that desperate.
“No,” Ekaterin agreed hollowly. Just desperately distracted. She was furious with the man; why should the notion of never ever having to have any physical contact with him make her suddenly want to burst into tears? Wait, no—if Vorkosigan wasn’t the man who’d sent the Baba, her whole case against him, which had bloomed so violently in her mind just now, collapsed like a house of cards. He was innocent. She was crazy, or headed that way fast.
Ekaterin firmly rejects Vormoncrief’s suit, calling him a “twittering idiot” and asking her aunt to back her up; Aunt Vorthys says that Ekaterin has lots of time yet, and can surely do better. Rosalie wonders how they’ll break the news to Vormoncrief, and Ekaterin points out that that’s the Baba’s job. Rosalie says that Ekaterin knows her own mind, but urges her not to be too picky, or wait too long, or she’ll end up living in her relatives’ attics.
Ekaterin excuses herself to get dressed; Rosalie said she’d hoped to spend the day shopping with Ekaterin, and they still can, even if not for wedding clothes. Ekaterin, thinking of shopping with Miles, refuses, but she relents and agrees to have lunch with them. She tells Rosalie about the garden she’s working on for Miles, and Rosalie asks if Miles has been acting improperly, offering her husband’s help, or her own, if necessary; Ekaterin says she’ll keep it in mind, privately vowing to keep her as far away from Miles as possible.
In the shower–a cold one–she wrestles with her physical attraction to Miles. She wonders if her tastes are becoming too strange, but she refuses to outright suppress her libido, since she doesn’t have Tien to worry about any more. She’s not sure why Miles seems to like her, but she resolves to keep things businesslike, and not spend too much time with him after she finished the garden. Turning the heat back up, she wonders if she can make him a dream lover; it’s somewhat reprehensible, but she doesn’t find the prospect of Miles doing the same with her to be too horrifying. She considers actually taking a lover, but wonders how she could dare, and doesn’t want to risk getting sucked into another bog like her marriage to Tien. She turns down the temperature again, telling herself sternly that Miles is not Tien, and he only wants her to make a garden. She tells herself these thoughts are crazy, and hopes it’s just a spike in her hormones.
She might not even see him that day, or at least not have to talk to him before the dinner party, which promises to be crowded enough that there will be plenty of other people to talk to. She should be able to handle it by then.
Ivan is working in his mother’s office at the Imperial Residence, full of Vor women–but mostly middle-aged ones, alas, and luckily he hadn’t had any bad relationships with any of their daughters… Dono and By Vorrutyer stop in to visit with him before their audience with the Emperor, escorted by Gregor’s major-domo. Dono asks after Ivan’s mother, but she’s out dealing with florists; Dono says he will have to meet with her, but Ivan privately hopes he’s not around when that happens.
“Ready, gentlemen?” said the major-domo.
“Good luck, Dono,” said Ivan, and prepared to retreat.
“Yes,” said By, “good luck. I’ll just stay here and chat with Ivan till you’re done, shall I?”
“My list,” said the major-domo, “has all of you on it. Vorrutyer, Lord Vorrutyer, Lord Vorpatril, Armsman Szabo.”
“Oh, that’s an error,” said Ivan helpfully. “Only Lord Dono actually needs to see Gregor.” By nodded confirmation.
“The list,” said the major-domo, “is in the Emperor’s own hand. This way, please.”
The major-domo doesn’t seem surprised by Lord Dono’s identity, so Ivan surmises that Gregor is already up to speed on that issue, alas. He leads the group down to Gregor’s office and Gregor summons them inside. Lord Dono thanks him for seeing them on short notice; Gregor gives By an odd look, and asks them to be seated, even Armsman Szabo.
Gregor asks whose idea the scheme was; Dono says it was his, adding that his brother had expressed many times, in hearing of the household, how little he wanted Richars to inherit, and so he’s carrying out Pierre’s posthumous will. Gregor asks what help he secured for himself before he left, and Dono said he brought Pierre’s Armsmen into the scheme–not taking their Armsmans’ oaths himself, which would be a serious crime, but just their personal word. Apart from them, he’d only informed Byerly, and, of necessity, his lawyer. By was to keep an eye on Richars while Dono was offplanet and out of commission. Gregor compliments By on his loyalty and discretion; By said that it seemed to be a personal matter.
Dono asks if ImpSec had passed on his medical files from Beta Colony yet, and Gregor says they had; Dono said he had told the Betans not to give them to ImpSec, but he had no doubt that, even after Simon Illyan’s retirement, ImpSec was up to the challenge. He asks Gregor to note that he is a fully functional male, capable of carrying on the line, and claims the right to the Countship of Vorrutyer’s District, with the stated approval of the prior Count; he also asserts the proof of his skill in running the District for Pierre. Gregor asks if he’s bringing any other charges against Richars; Dono says they don’t have enough proof in the one serious matter, the lightflyer accident, and Gregor says that ImpSec agrees. Dono says he won’t be pushing for Richars to be declared unfit, merely for he himself to be seen as more fit. He hopes for votes from Richars’s enemies, if no one else, but notes that he would plan to join the Progressive party–unlike the Vorrutyers’ traditional stance–which Gregor approves of.
Gregor says that he doesn’t have much leverage with the Council of Counts right now, since he’s trying to convince them to fund the Komarran soletta repairs; Dono says all he expects of Gregor is to let the case proceed, with a public debate and vote. Gregor says he’s not keen on the precedent that Dono is trying to set; Dono points out that anyone could have done it for some time now, but he expects that it won’t become that popular, except in extreme cases like his. He adds that it’s time that the Counts realized they have to take galactic technology into account in their legal system.
Gregor looked Lord Dono over, and pressed his hand to the bridge of his nose, briefly. After a moment he said ironically, “And will you be wanting a wedding invitation too?”
Dono’s brows flicked up. “If I am Count Vorrutyer by then, my attendance will be both my right and my duty. If I’m not—well, then.” After a slight silence, he added wistfully, “Though I always did like a good wedding. I had three. Two were disasters. It’s so much nicer to watch, saying over and over to yourself, It’s not me! It’s not me! One can be happy all day afterward on that alone.”
Gregor said dryly, “Perhaps your next one will be different.”
Dono’s chin lifted. “Almost certainly, Sire.”
Gregor is quiet for a minute, then asks Dono what it’s like. Dono says that his energy and libido are up, and he feels better than he did ten years ago. Also, starting on Komarr, and most noticeably on Barrayar itself, he gets more personal space and faster responses from others. Gregor asks if he’s likely to change back, if this doesn’t work, and Dono says he’s enjoying being top of the food chain. Eventually–and to Ivan’s dismay–Gregor says “Let’s see what happens,” and dismisses them.
By said that went better than he had expected, explaining that he was feeling out of his depth. Dono thanks Ivan for his help, but Ivan denies having really done anything. In fact, Gregor hadn’t even asked him anything at the meeting.
Dono asks again after Ivan’s mother; Ivan says she’s very, very busy at work, but Dono says he’d rather see her in a more social setting. Ivan mentions the dinner party, explaining that he had been intending to bring Lady Donna as his guest; Dono says that he accepts. Ivan protests that this will mess up Miles’s seating arrangements, though Dono says he doubts that, with all the Koudelka sisters attending. Ivan explains that the real purpose is to introduce people to his gardener, Ekaterin Vorsoisson, who he seems to have fallen in love with.
Ivan mentions that the Vorbrettens will be there, and Dono is interested in René as an in with the Progressives, though Ivan tells him that since the Cetagandan connection came up he hasn’t been very popular. Dono dismisses this, and says they definitely need to compare notes. Ivan isn’t sure that Miles will be too happy with him for bringing Dono to the party…but supposes that Dono might make a nice target to protect Ivan from Miles’s wrath on other matters, like Vormoncrief and Zamori. Not to mention that Miles would undoubtedly also make a great resource, in Lord Dono’s eyes, so maybe they’ll take care of each other and Ivan will be able to get out from between them. Pretending reluctance, he agrees to take Lord Dono to the party.
I often think of the scene with Rosalie conveying the marriage proposal–and Ekaterin immediately leaping to the conclusion that it’s from Miles–to be almost the first time that she begins to seriously consider Miles. There were a few moments before, I suppose–the flirtation at the end of Komarr, and the surge of sensuality that struck her at the odour of his closet–but she’s mostly been denying them. She does have seriously mixed feelings at the prospect of a proposal from Miles, though, not least because she begins to see his actual plan, to hire her for the garden at least partly as a pretext. So if Miles had actually been sending a proposal, the thought that he’d been deceiving her might have led her to refuse him. But now, both the concept of Miles as a suitor, and the idea that the garden plan is a subterfuge on his part, are in her mind.
The shower scene is quite interesting, as she wrestles with her sexuality. In Komarr we already knew that her sexual fantasies were getting a bit weird, mostly out of a desire to deal with her growing repulsion for Tien; does this, in any way, explain her physical interest in Miles? I mean, not all women find him repulsive, but many (like Rosalie) seem to, though admittedly not all of those have actually met him. Nonetheless, she doesn’t seem to conceive that Miles may also feel attracted to her–though that may just be because she’s trying to keep herself from thinking about the possible garden scam. She does briefly consider taking a lover–it’s not clear if she’s considering Miles for the role or not, but she doesn’t have any other immediate prospects, so probably–but she’s still too gun-shy to risk even the chance of relinquishing her heart and getting trapped again. So she determines to keep it inside, though she reserves the right to perhaps incorporate Miles into her personal fantasies from here on.
I don’t normally get too explicit with the spoilers here, especially with things are intentionally being kept as surprises, but I do want to discuss the implications of the the Vorrutyers’ meeting with Gregor in the light of the fact that Byerly Vorrutyer is later revealed to actually be working for ImpSec. Obviously he’s the pipeline for Gregor being informed about what happened to Lady Donna…but when? In this scene, I’m getting the impression that he may have actually kept that little fact to himself, until his hand was forced by Ivan scheduling the meeting with Gregor. Gregor and By’s interactions in the meeting imply that Gregor is aware that By is working for ImpSec, and is asking him to account for his unwonted closed-mouthedness on the matter. And By claims it was “a personal matter”. I’m not sure that Gregor buys that one; some family loyalty is laudable, I suppose, but an ImpSec agent shouldn’t let that sway him. After all, what if Dono/Donna were plotting against the Emperor? Would By have forebore to mention that? Of course, I guess that By’s loyalty is a little more selective, since he’s all too willing to betray Richars, so maybe the Emperor (and By’s boss–who is in charge of Domestic Affairs at ImpSec these days?) will judge things to have turned out okay.
No blog next Wednesday, but hopefully one sometime between than and New Year’s. It is, of course, time for the dinner party. The infamous dinner party. I still remember, first time through, how much I was looking forward to it, all these characters getting together in one place. Such interesting conversations and meetings we would have! Yeah, I still remember that. But now, I know better. Sometime before the end of the year, then, with any luck…